On 9-10 November the EU – Western Balkans Media Days, organised by the European Commission, brought together more than 250 representatives of media and policymakers from the Western Balkans and the EU in Tirana, to exchange forward-looking ideas and innovative experiences leading to the sustainability of professional journalism.
The event kicked off with welcome speeches by Albanian Prime Minister Mr Edi Rama and by the Commissioner for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Mr Johannes Hahn, who both underlined that freedom of expression is a fundamental right and “inextricably linked to the further progress on path to the EU”. In his opening speech, Commissioner Hahn supported Mr Rama’s connection between free expression and EU principles and affirmed that media freedom is a non-negotiable condition in the EU accession process and “a true driver of the reform- and transformation process, which will be decisive to make the European perspective of your countries come true.”
Following the opening remarks, the first grand panel convened featuring esteemed panelists Nigel Baker, Klaus Schweighofer, Ilva Tare, Genoveva Ruiz Calavera and our very own Executive Director, Zvezdana Kovac. Moderated by Tim Judah, the panelists discussed the role of media as a transformative power in the EU accession process and shared interesting perspectives on the challenges regional media and journalists face. In this light, Ms. Kovac emphasised the need for media literacy in the region in order to fight against lack of media freedom and pluralism and stressed the importance of education. “Media in the Western Balkans is not free. To overcome this, we should focus on education; educating both journalists and consumers of media to filter sources and be aware of manipulation. We should introduce media literacy as a subject in schools and continue having public discussions on the freedom of media”.
She further highlighted that support and protection of freedom of media can be enhanced though a cooperation between media and civil society, as our very own ‘Okruzenje’ media project has proved.
The opening expert panel was followed by two blocks of parallel workshops covering contemporary topics on media and journalism. Interesting discussions took place during the ‘media café’, an open space where media professionals exchanged thoughts and experiences on a wide spectrum of media-related issues. The CDRSEE presented ‘Okruzenje/Vicinities’, the only regional current affairs talk show that stands as a unique example of free, independent, democratic journalism in a challenging landscape.
The second day of the conference continued with Grand Panel 2, where experts discussed the ways forward based on the conclusions of the workshops. Vreme journalist Ms Tamara Skrozza appealed to EU officials to use their influence in the negotiation process and prevent further collapse of the media scene and conditions for the work of the media. “Nothing is ok” she stated firmly and directly; “EU representatives must make us believe in their messages that media freedom is a priority in the process of European integration" she said in an emotional speech.
Participants engaged in a result-oriented dialogue, concluding, inter alia, that freedom of media in the region is at risk when faced with the challenges of an unstable economic and political situation and a threatening digital media expansion.
The event was closed by Commissioner Hahn who pointed out that conclusions shouldn’t be drawn until after all the views discussed in the conference are digested. Yet he made it clear that EU pledges to work along media partners from the Western Balkans, governments and citizens in making independent voices being heard.